March 9th, 2010

Support is crucial for those who find the courage to step out of abuse

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By Kerry Wilcock

In 1910 at an international conference for working women in Copenhagen, a woman named Clara Zetkin tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day.  She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day to press for their demands for equality.

The following year, International Women’s Day (IWD) was celebrated for the first time in Austria,  Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.  More than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women’s right to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination.

In Singapore today, 100 years later, we continue to celebrate IWD.  And we continue to be surrounded by issues of violence against women, unfair work dismissal due to pregnancy, and foreign brides with limited rights and access to support.

Women still face many challenges.  Our work at AWARE includes providing support to women as they deal with these problems.  One example is our court assistance programme.

A couple of years ago, a woman approached AWARE for help.  Her husband had been abusing her physically, verbally putting her down and threatening to kill her.  He limited her access to her children and controlled all her finances.

We explored the idea of getting a Personal Protection Order (PPO).  She was initially reluctant as she didn’t want to upset her husband.  Some time later she contacted us again and said her husband was getting more controlling and she wanted to apply for a PPO.

We arranged for our volunteers in the Court Assistance Programme to be present at every one of her hearings at the Family court.  The husband had counter applied for a PPO despite there being no history of violence from her.  The court case dragged out for almost 6 months and she finally got her PPO while her husband’s application was not granted.

After it was over, she thanked us and said, “If it wasn’t for the ongoing support of all your volunteers over the past 6 months, I would have given up”.

We learnt two things from this case.  Firstly, support is crucial for someone who has experienced abuse and has decided to make a stand to end the abuse.  Secondly, the support of ordinary women, with no special education in the social services industry but with a willingness to learn some basic skills and to be available, can make a real difference.

I have been working in the social services industry for 20 years, six of them in Singapore.  Most of my work has been with survivors of domestic violence – not just women but also children and men.  It has been my privilege to hear their stories, share their pain and walk alongside them as they find the courage to step out of abuse.

Kerry is AWARE’s Direct Services Manager.  On 5th March 2010 she was named International Woman of the Year by the American Women’s Association of Singapore.  This is an abridged version of the speech she made at the award ceremony.

Note: We are planning to expand our Court Assistance Programme and need volunteers who can provide support for our clients when they go for court hearings.  Please email helpline@aware.org.sg if you would like to find out more about the programme.

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